EDMONTON—Dire health impacts and a damaged environment are among concerns raised in a new review on the fracking of natural gas written by a Canadian non-profit made up of physicians.
Due to the chemicals involved in fracking, the practice’s wide-ranging impacts on humans includes the potential for birth defects, cancer, neurological issues, psychological impacts, disease and illness, reads the review by the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE).
The report, based on the available research, was released Wednesday, and outlines the group’s findings on fracking, also known as hydraulic fracturing, which is a widespread practice in Canada.
Dr. Melissa Lem, a CAPE board member and physician based in the lower mainland of British Columbia, told the Star that much of the research on fracking comes from the United States and that there’s a need for more to be done in Canada. Still, she said the negative impacts on humans and the environment from fracking are well documented and shouldn’t be discounted.
“Canadians have to be aware that fracking is happening in our country and that it’s causing some extreme harms to our water sources, our air quality, our land, and also contributing to the climate crisis,” she said.
“We’re hoping by bringing the health voice to this issue, that we can help change people’s minds and just make them more aware.”
Fracking is a method of extracting natural gas from reserves deep underground, which uses wells and horizontal drilling. Water, sand and toxic chemicals are some of the substances that can be used under high pressure in order to shatter rock, which releases the natural gas.
The special practice is used to get at “unconventional oil and natural gas.” The review, however, only deals with natural gas fracking, not oil.
Its main recommendation for all jurisdictions is “a rapid and just transition away from natural gas and oil extracted with fracking to clean and equitable renewable energy sources.”
The report outlines how the process can contaminate drinking water, negatively impact wildlife, and pollute the air. More than 1,000 chemicals have been found in the fracking process and some are known or suspected carcinogens. Some are toxic and others can interfere with hormonal systems.
“Information on a large number of additives is not disclosed to protect intellectual property rights,” reads the report.
It adds that wildlife can be impacted through contaminated drinking water. As well, people can be exposed to radiation that can be released by fracking and air pollution can arise from mining operations.
According to the authors, Canada is the fourth largest producer of natural gas in the world and in 2018, around 71 per cent of the natural gas produced in the country was “fracked” gas.
While most earthquakes that result from fracking have been small, it’s possible larger events can happen. “For example, an event of 4.6 moment magnitude was recorded on August 17, 2015, in the Beg-Town area in the North Montney B.C. and was attributed to (unconventional oil and natural gas) developments.”
In the United States, research findings outline how workers in the sector can be exposed to chemicals and other safety risks. They have a risk of death at seven times the average of the rest of the oil and gas industry.
Some provinces in Canada, like New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador, have already banned fracking, either entirely or in part. Other jurisdictions around the world have done the same in recent years.
The review also pushed back on the common notion that natural gas operations are more environmentally friendly than other energy projects that produce carbon dioxide emissions.
“When it comes to climate impacts, these emissions are far more harmful than carbon dioxide (CO2) as methane’s global warming potential is 86 times that of CO2 over a 20-year time frame.”
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While Lem hopes the work in the report helps promote awareness around the need for action on climate change, she is expecting pushback from what she says is a well resourced industry.
“Environmental organizations, we’re pretty underfunded, compared to the oil and gas industry,” she said.
“There are a lot of vested interests in continuing and expanding the industry.”